Recently, I saw a Facebook posting that asked this question;
Dads, what are some ways you can “train up” your children? When is this job of spiritually training your kids done?
I waited to see what others might post, but nothing showed up and I forgot about the question until it was re-posted a couple weeks later by the same person.
My sons are presently 18 and 21 and my wife and I had committed to homeschooling as soon as we recognized that we were going to get married. Not everything we tried to accomplish or planned to do got done, or necessarily worked out as expected. Some stuff didn’t work for us that may have worked well for others. Still, I felt that I could offer some sort of response based on this life experience – if they were asking for help, repeatedly, why shouldn’t we try to address their question?
The nature of Facebook comment fields suggests that brevity should take precedence over any long-winded response, but I felt that there were many things suggested in the Bible and put into practice in family’s homes that ought to be included in the response. Here’s what I offered in my initial response to the question “Dads, what are some ways you can “train up” your children?”:
Pray for them, pray with them, read them biblical accounts and engage them with thought provoking questions about the meaning of and application of the selected passage, keep house rules biblically centered and enforce them consistently with a focus on obedience to God out of reverence instead of trying to gain favor, encourage memorization of key scriptures, love them, praise them for successful growth, encourage them when they struggle, don’t be afraid to ask for help, guide their social interaction as bad company corrupts good morals, help them adopt a worldview that tests everything against scripture (instead of testing scripture to find loopholes for permissive but questionable behavior, model Christ constantly since you are being watched by them (more closely than you may realize). Be a leader with a vision for your family’s development and prep them to become a leader of their own family if so blessed.
I figured that this mix of suggestions could cover a wide age range from birth thru adulthood. It’s interesting to consider the cognitive development of our children – what they can do at such early ages is encouraging in that their spiritual development in learning about God can begin very early in how we respond to them, encourage them, play with them, etc. The Centers for Disease Control is a noted health organization that has listed out key milestones for development between birth and five years old. By nine months, most children understand the concept of “NO” and are ready to start learning some basic rules for safety and healthy living. I’m not suggesting that we teach 9 month olds the ten commandments, but the point is that they learn by watching us – what we care about, they’ll be interested in, too. So, do they see us engaged in prayer time, devotions, and participating in church?
By two years old, the CDC notes that most children begin to show defiant behavior. Where is this coming from? Is this man’s true nature beginning to show itself? Is it a character issue or merely a behavioral one? This can be a critical time for parents – to be patient and to think about how to communicate effectively so that our child training isn’t merely to achieve peace in the home, but to begin the foundational work of ministering to our own children.
Phil Vischer (creator of Veggie Tales) had offered some interesting insights in a recent article titled “how to raise a pagan kid in a Christian home”:
“I looked back at the previous 10 years and realized I had spent 10 years trying to convince kids to behave Christianly without actually teaching them Christianity. And that was a pretty serious conviction. You can say, “Hey kids, be more forgiving because the Bible says so,” or “Hey kids, be more kind because the Bible says so!” But that isn’t Christianity, it’s morality. . .
And that was such a huge shift for me from the American Christian ideal. We’re drinking a cocktail that’s a mix of the Protestant work ethic, the American dream, and the gospel. And we’ve intertwined them so completely that we can’t tell them apart anymore.
Do you teach your kids “be good because the Bible tells you to” or do you teach your kids that they will never be good without Christ’s offer of grace? There is a huge difference. One leads to moralism; the other leads to brokenness. One leads to self-righteousness; the other leads to a life that realizes that Christ is everything and that nothing else matters.
I want my kids to be good. We all do. But as our kids grow up, the truth of the gospel can easily get lost somewhere between salvation (where we know we need Jesus) and living life (where we tend to say “I’ve got this”). My experience is that the vast majority of parents [or scout leaders/volunteers] are encouraging moral behavior in their kids so that God will bless their (usually self-centered) pursuits. It’s the American Dream plus Jesus. And it produces good, moral pagans.
Matthew 7:21-23 provides a chilling challenge or warning. Perhaps it could apply to parents who mislead their children into believing that “acting right” is the same thing as “confessing and submitting”:
Not everyone who says to Me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of My Father who is in heaven will enter. Many will say to Me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in Your name, and in Your name cast out demons, and in Your name perform many miracles?’ And then I will declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from Me, you who practice lawlessness.’
I remembered that one of the tactics we were encouraged to use with our children was catechism. Teaching our children to memorize a series relatively simple questions and answers (backed up by scripture verses) to construct what we believe and why we believe it. Informal use of catechism can begin at an early age, but many start by age 5 or 6. For our family, we started the process, but didn’t stick with it. I liked the approach, but it was hard for us to maintain our discipline along with all the other distractions and priorities. Still, it could be an unknown blessing to other families, so I took to Facebook and offered this comment:
For some families, an ideal way to train up their children in the way they Should go (as opposed to the way that they Would go) is to catechize them. Catechize = a verb meaning to instruct (someone) in the principles of Christian religion by means of question and answer, typically by using a catechism. For our family, we used the Westminster Shorter Catechism around the dinner table and during bible studies as our boys grew up. This was not the only instruction, nor the only method used, but it was one tool in the tool box that helped build a strong foundation of understanding what we believe and why we believe it.
We ought to encourage our children towards excellence in their understanding of scripture and desire to grow spiritually. While there’s nothing wrong with being a chess grand master, or the MVP of the local little league team (etc.), there’s also nothing wrong with being wholly invested in church history, doctrine, world view, ministry and service to others. In this video, Voddie Baucham Ministries shows how some men in the modern church may react oddly or even push back against these pursuits – don’t discourage children (or allow them to be discouraged) when they press on to become more mature Christians than we may be presently.
With regard to developing healthy social skills and interaction, we should keep a watch over our children – to protect them without stifling them, either. In my response chain I offered the following suggestions:
Getting your children strong opportunities to socialize and develop social skills is important, but we have a duty to oversee that process to appropriately protect them (not prevent them from ever making a mistake, etc. but to set reasonable boundaries as they grow and explore). Is our first choice to send them to a secular summer camp at age 6 in order for them to learn to witness? Probably not. Jesus stuck with his family while he was young (Luke 2:40-52 states he hung around the temple and with his family — not seeking the lost, the last and the lonely until much later in life). So we may want to balance their independence (their choices on areas of interest, our leading on where, when, how to accomplish those interests). After all, misalignment of organizational goals could be in conflict with your family goals, too. In example, our sons wanted to learn mixed martial arts, so we found a studio that did not teach them Far Eastern Religion while developing their discipline and strength. In scouting we chose to participate in units that were like minded in our expression of faith in order to reinforce our belief system instead of challenging it. Consider this article, https://troop113.wordpress.com/…/misaligned-objectives…/
Lastly (for now at least – I keep remembering additional things to offer) I would encourage Dads and Moms to work on their genuine devotion to God – be excited by the fact that the creator of the entire universe loves you, individually, by name, and wants to have a relationship with you. He provides a mechanism for escaping our prior slavery to sin and it came at great cost.
Our children get excited by what excites us. If we treat our faith like a mundane, burdensome exercise of futility, they’re likely to see it that way as they become adults, too (or be more easily swayed by peers that it should be viewed in that manner). Consider Psalm 78 (in it’s entirety, but I’ll highlight verses 2 thru 8):
I will open my mouth in a parable; I will utter dark sayings of old, Which we have heard and known, And our fathers have told us. We will not conceal them from their children, But tell to the generation to come the praises of the Lord, And His strength and His wondrous works that He has done. For He established a testimony in Jacob And appointed a law in Israel, Which He commanded our fathers That they should teach them to their children, That the generation to come might know, even the children yet to be born, That they may arise and tell them to their children, That they should put their confidence in God And not forget the works of God, But keep His commandments, And not be like their fathers, A stubborn and rebellious generation, A generation that did not prepare its heart And whose spirit was not faithful to God.
Here, we see that we should be getting our children into God’s word as early as possible, and increasing the depth/complexity of the passages, doctrine, history, etc. as they continue to mature. It takes a lot of work to delve into the Word, but you do not need to be a reverend with a PHD in Divinity – we are equipped with the Holy Spirit and the promise found in Isaiah 55:11 “So will My word be which goes forth from My mouth; It will not return to Me empty, Without accomplishing what I desire, And without succeeding in the matter for which I sent it.” God will make it plain for us, we need to do our duty and make it exciting to our children.
So readers, what have I completely forgotten to offer as practical advice on training up our children in the way that they should go so that in their increasing age they will not depart from it? While it may be too late for me to implement with my sons, I’m still working with them to prepare them to raise their own families someday, too.
P.S. I have a strong bias towards involving our children in “scouting” type activities and organizations for a whole host of reasons. This could be fulfilled by a number of fine organizations – research the one that best fits your family’s goals and beliefs, but then get involved as adults instead of merely dropping your children on the doorstep. Your family will grow more because of your commitment and involvement than if you “drop and run”.